With less than two weeks until a Jan. 3 deadline, Pimlico/Laurel operator Joe De Francis is still uncertain where he will locate the Maryland Jockey Club's proposed track in Virginia.
Yesterday, De Francis met with various officials in Loudoun County to discuss plans in that jurisdiction, but said no specific arrangements, such as zoning or planning board approvals, have been requested.
De Francis has been looking at six potential sites in Loudoun, but has not yet closed a deal on one definite property.
There is still the possibility that De Francis will go ahead with his original plan to build the track in New Kent County, on land owned by the Chesapeake Corp. about midway between Richmond and Williamsburg. But that site has drawn criticism from Maryland horsemen who think it is too far away.
"We're going to wait until the very last minute to decide where we'll put the track," De Francis said. "We are still gathering information and will take advantage of all the time the Virginia Racing Commission has allowed us."
De Francis said he has pinpointed one of the six Loudoun sites, which is located near Dulles Airport, that he likes best. "We're working on an agreement [to obtain an option to purchase the land]," he said. "But we're also talking to others."
The Dulles site contains about 250 acres and is located on Waxpool Road west of Virginia Route 28. It is about an hour's drive from Laurel in nonrush-hour traffic.
De Francis said the Loudoun track will be privately financed, although the county government might be asked to help pay for infrastructure costs.
"But no specifics have been discussed," he said.
De Francis also confirmed a report in yesterday's Richmond Times-Dispatch that said he is considering a joint venture in Virginia with Arnold Stansley, co-owner of Toledo (Ohio) Raceway.
Stansley is one of two confirmed investors who is considering buying out the Manfuso brothers' interests in Laurel/Pimlico. Stansley also submitted his own separate application for a Virginia license at the same New Kent site De Francis is considering.
"We're holding discussions," De Francis said, adding that Stansley's Virginia involvement is interrelated with his potential association as a partner in Laurel/Pimlico.
De Francis added that he is still talking with Hollywood Park president R. D. Hubbard about the California track operator joining him in the Virginia project.
In addition to De Francis and Stansley, the other four applicants vying for a Virginia license are Kentucky's Churchill Downs; the Virginia Racing Associates, largely composed of harness interests; the Virginia Jockey Club, headed by Middleburg horseman James J. Wilson; and Covington, Va., dentist Jeffrey Taylor.
All six applicants have until Jan. 3 to add amendments to their original licensing requests, which were filed Oct. 1.
Tom Aronson, a consultant for Churchill Downs, said he didn't think there would be many dramatic amendments except for De Francis' final choice of a New Kent or Loudoun site.
"Since Oct. 1 the major thing that has happened is the failure of the Northern Virginia referendum [rejection of Alexandria and Arlington as OTB sites]," Aronson said. Because of the vote, Churchill Downs has scaled down its proposed Virginia Beach track from a $63 million to $53 million facility. The rejection of the OTB sites also added impetus to De Francis' possible site move to Loudoun.
After the Jan. 3 amendments are filed, the Virginia Racing Commission is expected to schedule several days of public hearings in February to discuss the proposals. A decision on the winning applicant could be made in the spring.
"The political process is going to be intense," Aronson said. "What the commissioners ultimately have to decide is what's the best formula for Virginia.
"The critical issues are who has got the right idea where to put the track and how to run the satellite [OTB] system. I don't envy the commissioners their job."